We’ve spent the week celebrating all of the BEST Champaign-Urbana had to offer this year, which means it’s time to draw some attention to the WORST. What are our gripes and grievances from 2022? They are probably the same as many of yours: poor choices, poor communication, aching and gaping holes in our lives left unfilled. Below you’ll find our editors’ picks for WORST of 2022.
— Jessica Hammie, Managing Editor
Photo by Siarah Flanagan.
WORST restaurant closures: Downtown Urbana’s Dancing Dog and Crane Alley
This year sadly saw the closure of two longstanding Downtown Urbana restaurants Dancing Dog and Crane Alley. A staple for many vegetarians and vegans in C-U, Dancing Dog served vegan cuisine made with fresh ingredients. Crane Alley was a favorite of mine and had a great Pop Rocks martini, but after the pandemic, the menu wasn’t the same (RIP the wings). It sucks to see more restaurants close, but it’s a good reminder to get our asses out to the places we love, so they don’t end up closed, too. (AB)
WORST community caring: Lack of support for the unhoused
SP’s Editorial Board has written many times about the need to earnestly try to address homelessness in C-U. There is little scaffolding at the municipal level. The handful of organizations in the area that are working to help the unhoused, particularly in Champaign, can only do so much. Some of them have requirements of sobriety. There are very few resources in the area for women and families escaping domestic violence.
The prospect of a low-barrier homeless shelter run by Champaign Township near Downtown Champaign, in the old Habitat for Humanity Re-Store on University Avenue, was promising. That project fell through. Champaign Township tried to buy the C-U at Home shelter. The initial offer was rejected, but a second, higher one, was accepted. The shelter opened earlier this week.
As Andy Quarnstorm, City of Champaign Township Supervisor said in to the News-Gazette, “It’s been a pretty long and arduous process.” No kidding. Here’s to hoping that this new shelter, called Strides, will be supported by Champaign. (JH)
WORST playground loss: Tear down of Meadowbrook Park playground
When it was announced that Meadowbrook Park playground was going to be torn down, I was heartbroken. It’s by the far the best playground in C-U, or at least from what I can remember. I used to go all the time when I was younger, and that place felt like a wooden palace, filled with so many nooks and crannies and unique little hiding spots. I remember going down some weird rubber-like slide thing and coming out with a friction burn, or running all over the place and finishing the day covered with splinters looking like Pinhead – but did the fun outweigh the potential pain? One hundred percent. There’s no playground like Meadowbrook, and I’ll hate to see it go. (SW)
WORST way to unseat Rodney Davis: Losing to Mary Miller
Look, we are beyond thrilled that Hot Rod has finally become irrelevant here in IL-13. He provided us with a lot of content, but in the worst sort of way. However, this is not necessarily the “unseating” we were hoping for. The hours and hours and hours of work by Dems in this district could not accomplish what pushing him into a redder than red district to face Mary Miller and her Trump purse ultimately did. (JM)
WORST untapped potential: Downtown Champaign empty storefronts
I love Downtown Champaign, but I hate all the empty storefronts. KoFusion’s old space remains vacant after the move to the new location, and don’t get me started on the huge Destihl space that’s sat empty since April of 2020. And when is Sakanaya Downtown — which was set to take over Miga’s space back in May of 2021 — ever going to open? The Art Theatre closed in 2019 and is still vacant. The closure of Pekara, Styx Arcade, and even Austin’s Sportswear means there is so much untapped potential in Downtown Champaign. We love to see new restaurants like The Heavy Spoon and The Space moving in, but we’d be into seeing a reimagination of the empty spaces whether it’s another restaurant, retail, a performance space, a bodega, or something else entirely. (AB)
WORST response to a transphobic speaker coming to campus: U of I administration’s lack of response
Right wing extremist Matt Walsh brought his transphobic nonsense to U of I in October for an event sponsored by the student organization Young Americans for Freedom. It could have been an opportunity for the administration to at the very least make a statement in support of trans students, staff, and faculty. Instead, they said this: “As always, Student Affairs staff members have met with the RSO’s organizers to review safety protocol, and we will have University of Illinois Police Department officers at the event to ensure it happens safely.” Silence speaks volumes. (JM)
WORST gap in local arts: Lack of an indie art theater
During the past year, there have been two moments when I found myself thinking, “the one thing missing, the one thing that would make this perfect, is having an indie art theater.” The first was when I learned about the Central Illinois Film & TV Production Training Course and the second was when I’d heard that John Isberg’s Final Summer had wrapped. The film and TV production course, which is geared toward preparing the next generation of Illinois film production staffers, is a fantastic creative and economic initiative. However, imagine if the shorts those students produced at the end could have been screened at a thriving local indie art theater. Just think how aspirational and elevating that would have been for all concerned. And while Final Summer did get screened in no less than three C-U and C-U-adjacent venues, and will, I’m confident, go onto to screen at esteemed festivals in the near future, just think of what it would have meant to its creative and technical teams, as well as to the C-U film fans rooting for it, to see it open in a space uniquely carved out to honor and support independent film. It’s been years since the loss of the Art Theatre, but the wound won’t truly heal until something sustainable stands in its place. (DD)
WORST retail business loss: Dandelion
You never like to see a business close for good, but this one is really sad to see. Dandelion was a C-U institution for more than 25 years, and there isn’t another place like it in this town. Keeping a small business alive isn’t easy, especially over the last few years. Sigh. (JM)
WORST communication: Unit 4
Okay, before you jump on the “Yeah, down with Unit 4!” bandwagon, let me be clear that this is not a take-down of Unit 4. Unit 4 teachers teach your kids. Staff feed them. They help them out with their educational, social, and emotional needs. We at SP do not think that anyone at Unit 4 is genuinely looking to make things exceptionally difficult on purpose or that they have malicious intent, especially leadership in the form of the superintendent and board. We want all parties to find success, both professionally and among the students.
However: Unit 4 has many problems, but perhaps chief among them is the utter disorganization and ineptitude that is their communication strategy (or lack thereof). So many of Unit 4’s problems could be mitigated if leadership could effectively and clearly communicate in a timely fashion. This ranges from notices about meetings and problems with the transportation to the proposal to reimagine school choice and enrollment. As both internal and external observers, it seems like nuance is lost when the information package is delivered…less than ideally.
There are clear communication problems from leadership to parents. There are some parents whose voices are not being heard or are being drowned out by a lot of well meaning loud ones. Something has to give, and it’s incumbent upon the district and its leaders to meet the community more than halfway. Fair or not, that’s just the way is will have to be until more trust is earned. (JH)
WORST political stunt: Jim McGuire’s frivolous lawsuit
Just a couple days before November’s midterm election, soon-to-be former County Board member Jim McGuire filed a lawsuit against the Champaign County Clerk’s office alleging improper handling of ballots.
On October 24th, an election judge snapped photos — through the closed window — of test ballots on the seat of Champaign County Deputy Clerk Michelle Jett’s car. The photos were submitted to the sheriff’s office, but dissatisfied with the speed of that investigation, McGuire filed a lawsuit in the late afternoon hours of Friday, November 4th, ahead of the Tuesday, November 8th election. From the photos it is clear that they are test/sample ballots, because they have cut corners. Jett, who has admitted to being messy (the horror!), printed her own sample ballot as a test of the printers at election polling locations she was setting up. The lawsuit was dismissed almost immediately.
Per WCIA reporting, “Rietz said the lawsuit was an attempt at ‘embarrassing [Champaign County Clerk Aaron] Ammons’ ahead of the election.”
What a waste of time and taxpayer money. Jim McGuire’s shenanigans will not be missed on the County Board. (JH)
WORST music scene loss: Aaron “A Rock” Davidson
I didn’t know Aaron Davidson that well. There are many that knew him more than I, just read this and you’ll see. But having spent many nights at shows in Champaign-Urbana over the course of a decade plus, he and I certainly shared space from time to time at shows. If you were in observance of his energy, you know what it felt like, and it was something you keep with you to help you remember the magic of life at times. His dancing (and stage presence at times) made you feel a little more excited about being where you were at that point in time. We felt compelled to mention him here in WORST 2022 because a loss like his has an impact on the cultural stitching that holds scenes together. It isn’t just the music community where Davidson will be sorely missed, we’re lucky he existed here generally in the first place. (PS)
WORST publication: Chambana Sun
To even speak of this toilet paper as a publication is insulting to anyone who has genuinely worked to publish something. The people who put this shit together — the radicalized right – are disgraceful, despicable, and disgusting. (JH)
This article was compiled by Alyssa Buckley, Debra Domal, Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Sean Wilkinson.